Pros and Cons of Less-Lethal Self-defense

This prepping and survival blog post is about the advantages and disadvantages of using less-lethal weapons in self-defense. A “less-lethal” weapon is still a weapon. Although this type of weapon is not designed to kill your attacker, death can sometimes result: hence the name “less” lethal. There are a few types of less-lethal self-defense weapons available to the public. However, legal restrictions on these weapons are not uncommon, so check your local laws. And since death or serious injury can possibly result from the use of less-lethal weapons, you probably don’t want to use these weapons on anyone, except in a situation in which you are justified, legally and morally, in using deadly force against an attacker.

1. Pepper spray is widely available in many different forms. Some U.S. States and localities may restrict its possession, so check your local laws. Pepper spray works by causing pain to the attacker and by interfering with vision and breathing. Some pepper spray formulas are combined with tear gas, to cause profuse tearing and disorientation. Some formulas have a dye included in the spray to mark the attacker for possible identification by law enforcement at a later time. Pepper spray in any form can possibly be lethal, particularly by interfering with breathing. You might be tempted to use the most powerful version of pepper spray available. I suggest using one of the less powerful versions, since your goal is to keep the force non-lethal, if possible.

2. A stun gun uses a high voltage electric shock to disable an attacker. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause death or serious injury in some circumstances. There are two types. The first type requires you to get close enough to press the device against the body of the attacker. The second type instead fires a pair of probes (usually attached to wires), allowing you to stand off from your attacker by some number of feet (depending on the particular version of the device). Many States and localities restrict or prohibit the possession or use of stun guns; know your local laws. A good stun gun costs hundreds of dollars, much more than even high-end versions of pepper spray.

3. Less lethal shotgun ammunition has only recently reached the civilian market; previously it was available only to law enforcement. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause serious injury or death. Less lethal shotgun ammo will generally cause some level of injury to the attacker. Shots striking the attacker in the head, neck, spine, or chest are much more likely to be lethal or to cause serious injury. Shots striking the attacker in the arms, legs, or lower body are less likely to be lethal. This type of ammunition is capable of penetrating the body of an attacker, especially at close range. It will not necessarily just bounce off; and even when it does, some injury will likely result. The likelihood of serious injury or death depends on many factors; consult the manufacturer of the ammunition for more information.


The main advantage to this type of self-defense is that your actions usually will not result in the death of the attacker. When you use deadly force, legally, to kill an attacker, you might still face prosecution from an over-zealous district attorney. There might be a legal dispute about the exact circumstances and whether it was justified. There could be a lawsuit and the burden of attorney’s fees. With the less-lethal types of self-defense, you might avoid these legal difficulties.

Another “pro” is that you don’t have to deal with the emotional turmoil that might result from killing another human being. Even when killing is entirely justified, legally and morally, it is not such an easy thing (for most people) to have to kill someone. See this article by an experience fire arms instructor: The Hard Questions – Gracie’s Fireside Chat.

Some less-lethal weapons have fewer restrictions on the purchase and concealed carry of the weapon. However, laws on this topic vary greatly from one state to another, so know your local laws before you buy. It is usually easier to get a permit (if one is needed at all) to carry pepper spray or a small taser than to carry a concealed firearm. (Of course, you will need whatever permits are required to own a shotgun, before you can use less-lethal shotgun ammo.) And while tasers can be expensive, pepper spray is inexpensive and easy to use.


On the “con” side, less lethal weapons allow a determined attacker to continue attacking, or to return a while later for a second attack. This disadvantage is substantial, especially in a SHTF-scenario which might see an increase in civil unrest and in violent crimes. In my view, this is the main disadvantage to less-lethal weapons.

A particular disadvantage for the less-lethal shotgun rounds is that you have to be very careful to know what type of ammo is in the shotgun that you grab when facing an attacker. You don’t want to be in a situation where you think you have less-lethal ammo in the magazine, when in fact it is a full-power self-defense load of double-aught buckshot.

For certain types of pepper spray, the spray can end up in the air in the room, causing everyone to react with coughing and tearing eyes. This is especially a problem in confined spaces. The gel-type of pepper spray are less prone to this disadvantage.

The type of stun gun that requires you to physically press the device against your attacker’s body (rather than the type that shoots darts attached to wires) has a major disadvantage: you have to get very close to your attacker. This might result in your attacker causing you serious bodily injury before you can disable him with the stun gun.

Another substantial disadvantage occurs when your attacker is armed with a gun. They can use deadly force easily with their firearm, but you can only respond to that threat with substantially less force.

My conclusion is that less-lethal weapons have their place. But when the SHTF, there is no substitute for a firearm when defending yourself and your family.

– Thoreau

6 Responses to Pros and Cons of Less-Lethal Self-defense

  1. Other limitations to “less than lethal” means such as stun gun is that clothing effects its use more than firearms. In much of the country, heavy clothing associated with winter can make deploying a stun gun very problematic.

    A limitation that keeps me from using OC sprays or Tear gas is my Asthma. Personal medical conditions are a huge factor in using these types of devices. Few of the reports involving their use end without the person carrying it getting some exposure to it. For me that could be lethal; hardly what I seek for an outcome.

    I think a person should consider how they want to employ less than lethal means carefully before deciding to carry one of them. If their primary concern is being able to buy a few seconds to minutes for escape; these might be helpful. If they are concerned about safety in a emergency / grid down situation; I think there are better options.

  2. While working law enforcement in South/Central Los Angeles from 1975-1980, we as an industry were perplexed , cautiously hoping for a less-than-lethal weapon to thwart the increasing use of aggression/paranoia inducing drugs such as PCP, Ice, Meth, LSD, Sherms, etc. As I look back, these users might have been the original Zombies! Under the influence of such drugs, I witnessed a female in custody, strip the flesh from her wrist and hand, finally managing to free herself from one handcuff! I remember the use of plastic nets and heavy moving blankets being thrown over arrestees. They were not effective until enough body weight from other Officers was employed to literally “weigh down ” the bad guy. Rodney King(Bless his little heart), was a good example of less than lethal not making the grade. There was an incredible incident with LAPD hitting a male under the influence of PCP, shot 39 times with 38 calibre and 12 gauge rounds, with little effect. In fact, when Paramedics arrived and started treatment, the creep’s vitals were within NORMAL ranges! He expired later.
    This Old Marine’s thoughts- Machiavelli said it best; make sure your injury to your opponent is so severe, that you never worry about revenge.

  3. Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris

    I can load a Zombie Blaster or other less-than-lethal load in the shotgun’s chamber, while using ‘double-aught’ buckshot in all the shells in the magazine. Try to be nice the first time, but kill if there is any resistance.

  4. The real trouble with less than lethal, is that the perp is likely to sue you for damages. Or to spin a story on how you used too much force, or that you were in fact the aggressor. Or blackmail you for a settlement in lieu of criminal charges. Or come back and rape your wife and daughter while you are at the shooting range.

    I like a cross bow for a silent defense, esp against multiple attackers creeping up, you might get two of them before they even realize their team is being decimated.

  5. As I was taught when I was first issued “less lethal”, you have to know what is in the chamber. That is why my agency issued me 2 shotguns. Too many agencies have had problems when their officers became confused and shot the individual with the wrong load.
    I personally like the ideal of the new o/u Mossberg, keeping it loaded with “less lethal” and having my Glock ready.
    I was taught that if the threat came into the zone to re-position my point of aim from the target areas to the magic triangle.
    I have been in LE for so long I remember the days of Mace/whatever up to the present day Pepper Spray. I personally have seen it work on both two and four legged animals.

  6. You forgot sticks! They’re semi-lethal too!

    I like to speak softly and carry a big one!